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Attorneys general from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are calling on congressional leaders to pass a Wisconsin-led effort to curb overdoses by limiting access to deadly fentanyl analogues.

Led by Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, a Democrat, and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican, the National Attorneys General Association sent a letter on Thursday to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urging the “swift passage” of the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act.

The legislation, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, both Wisconsin Republicans, would allow the Drug Enforcement Administration to classify more than a dozen fentanyl analogues as Schedule I, a classification given to drugs with no medical use and a high risk for abuse.

Fentanyl itself is a powerful, synthetic opioid painkiller that can be administered safely by doctors to patients in extreme pain. But street drug manufacturers have created variations that are becoming a fast-growing contributor to opioid-related deaths.

The legislation would not only give Schedule I status to currently known fentanyl variations; it would also allow the DEA to immediately classify new analogues as they are created and discovered, allowing for speedier criminal prosecution.

In a statement, Sensenbrenner said the legislation is an “essential piece of the puzzle” as lawmakers work to combat the prevalence of fentanyl and its variants.

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“The scourge of addiction and overdose deaths has devastated thousands of American families, including my own,” Johnson said in a statement. “The widespread introduction of fentanyl and its analogues into illicit drug markets has resulted in skyrocketing overdose rates throughout the country. The SOFA Act will give law enforcement important tools to curb the supply of illicit fentanyl and close legal loopholes that have allowed criminal drug manufactures and traffickers to stay one step ahead of the law.”

In the letter signed by 52 attorneys general, the legislation is billed as a move that “unplugs the entire fentanyl machine in the first instance.”

A similar bill was signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker late last year.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, deaths resulting from synthetic opioid use — generally fentanyl — increased in Wisconsin from 66 in 2010 to 288 in 2016. As national drug overdose deaths hit a record high last year, the increase was attributed in large part to synthetic opioids. 

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.